Nothing happens without focus

“I know how to burn a hole in paper without a match or a lighter or anything.”
 Last week while I was playing in the park with some kids, Anna, age 7, showed me how to use a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on a piece of paper and burn a hole in it.  It was magic to her until I explained that the magnifying glass focuses the sun’s rays to make them much stronger than they’d otherwise be.  And for Anna, the ability to focus was almost more exciting than the magic she’d perceived, because she could understand and repeat it.

Focus.  It’s an easy concept to grasp but sometimes a difficult one to apply, especially when you’re facing numerous demands on your time and energy.

You know multitasking isn’t the answer (you do know that, right?) but it can be so very tempting.

As I often tell clients, if you can’t focus on business development so that you act consistently on a cohesive, strategic plan–if you allow yourself to be pulled this way and that by whatever is most pressing at the moment–you will not be successful in growing your practice.

But it’s easy to get distracted, especially by something as truly pressing as billable work.  That’s why I’ve selected quotes about focus for your review (below).  Consider putting them where they will catch your attention.

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity.  Simple can be harder than complex:  You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
~Steve Jobs

One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power.  Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.
~Tony Robbins

You don’t get what you want in life.  You get what you focus on and expect.
~Tony Rush

Often he who does too much does too little.
~Italian Proverb


5 Ways to Generate Content that Get You Noticed, Connected and Hired

I was a guest on my friend and colleague Jory Fisher’s BlogTalkRadio show last week.
 After talking with numerous clients who were experiencing writer’s block, Jory and I agreed to discuss content generation:  why to create content (meaning, generally, written or oral information relevant to your practice that you share with an interested audience), how to use your content, and what to do to make the creation simple.  Here’s the show description:

There it is…  The blinking cursor on the empty screen.  You need to write a blog post or article, to put together your next presentation, or even to come up with something witty and thought-provoking for social media.  You’re stuck–but you can escape the pressure.

In today’s market, “content is king”.  Whether you write or speak (or both!), the information and expertise that you share is the key to getting found by your ideal clients and the media, gaining entree into the right business circles, and landing new business.  Join us to discover five simple ways to ramp up your content generation and how to use the content you create to advance your business.

Generating information that is useful to your target audience and that showcases your knowledge and skill is a key way to market your practice…  But sometimes, it just seems like a pain to do.  And sometimes, even when you’ve put in the effort and produced the content, you may wonder how to make the most of it.

Five Easy Ways to Generate Amazing Content will show you how to create great content easily and how to use content you create for maximum effect.  Although the interview was focused on women entrepreneurs of faith (Jory’s client base) rather than lawyers specifically, every bit of it is applicable for legal business development.

The interview is some of the best content I’ve offered in quite some time, so be sure to check it out.  In the meantime, here are the 5 ways to break writer’s block and streamline your content creation:

  1. Read a daily news source or blog (Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review blog, your local business journal) and find ways to relate your business/offerings/message/purpose to at least one story daily.  You may not choose to use what you come up with, but it’ll get your brain moving.
  2. Keep a list of client questions and case studies.  Bonus:  make it your habit to write down one story each day, something that has occurred to you or a client or contact, and relate that to your practice.  Always watch for teachable moments.
  3. Read blogs in your area of practice and watch for ideas with which you disagree.  You can add your two cents as a comment on the blog or through your own blog, article, etc.
  4. Track what people are discussing on social media that’s relevant to your practice.  Expand the topics and offer your perspective.
  5. Make a prediction:  what do you see trending in your industry or with your clients?  Then connect the dots for your audience by recommending how they can take advantage of changes or avoid upcoming problems.

If content creation is a part of your business development strategy (and, almost without exception, it should be!), download the show and give it a listen.

Habits determine outcome, so get your habits right

Every single one of my clients faces the need to build new habits at some point.  
Whether it’s replacing an unhelpful old habit or building a new one from scratch, the process of illuminating automatic behavior and changing it can be quite difficult.  At the same time, building a habit that operates without conscious thought and that supports desired outcomes is a marker for success.

You have to have the right habits.

Especially when it comes to business development, I’m a proponent of building strong habits.  Why?  Because habits build a structure that takes over in the face of challenges.  Habits are behaviors that we perform without thought.  They just happen.  And when they don’t, we feel so uncomfortable that, for better or worse, we usually revert to the habit.  There’s a lot of power in a habit.

But it isn’t easy to establish a new habit, and it’s often even harder to break an old one.  We’ve all heard the “do it for 28 days and you’ll have a habit” advice.  That doesn’t match my experience, though, and too often it doesn’t match my clients’ experience.

Several recently published books explore habit, but Duhigg’s The Power of Habit captured my attention.  In an Amazon Q&A, Duhigg shares what sparked his interest in habit:

What sparked your interest in habits?

I first became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad, when I heard about an army major conducting an experiment in a small town named Kufa.

The major had analyzed videotapes of riots and had found that violence was often preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza and, over the course of hours, growing in size.  Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators.  Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle.

When the major met with Kufa’s major, he made an odd request:  Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas?  Sure, the mayor said.  A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Great Mosque of Kufa.  It grew in size.  Some people started chanting angry slogans.  At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry.  People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found.  The spectators left.  The chanters became dispirited.  By 8 p.m., everyone was gone.

I asked the major how he had figured out that removing the food vendors would change peoples’ behavior.

The U.S. military, he told me, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history.  “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” he said.  By the time I got back to the U.S., I was hooked on the topic.

Duhigg’s book is divided into three parts:  The Habits of Individuals, which explores how habit works and how to create and change them, The Habit of Successful Organizations, which describes how various businesses use (and perhaps abuse) habit formation, and the Habit of Societies, which investigates societal habits and related ethical questions.  Filled with stories, anecdotes, and tweetable insights, the book is a quick read that seems to be well-grounded in research and experience.

I was surprised to learn that, according to cited Duke University research, more than 40% of actions are habits rather than action motivated by conscious decision.  Duhigg defines habits as “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”  That’s when I began to pay close attention to the book.

Habits are based on a three-step process:  a cue that triggers the action, the action itself, and the reward.  Using examples such as the habit of checking email (routine) in response to a message waiting alert (cue) to relieve boredom (reward).  Duhigg explains why habits are so difficult to change.  When a cue triggers us, we crave a reward, and the habit occurs automatically.

To change a habit, Duhigg teaches, choose a cue and a reward, then focus on the reward until you crave it, and preferably join a group composed of others who believe that change is possible.  It sounds easy enough, and Duhigg offers plenty of examples, but he also acknowledges that habits become deeply and often unconsciously engrained, making change difficult.

I was particularly intrigued by Duhigg’s recitation of research that demonstrates the success of those who make specific plans for action well in advance and know how they’ll work around obstacles.  We’ve all watched carefully cultivated habits fall apart when work gets unusually busy or a child gets sick, and Duhigg’s recitation of finding after finding serves as a strong prompt to anticipate obstacles.

What’s in it for you?

The Power of Habit offers both conceptual and concrete tips on how to make habit-building more conscious and more successful.  As noted above, every single client I’ve worked with in the last six years has bumped into habits at some point.  Bad habits (such as returning to the office with intentions to follow up with a new prospect only to watch days slip by without any movement) have to go, and new ones take their place.  Implementing Duhigg’s suggestions will  help.

I wish The Power of Habit had offered more discussion around identifying harmful habits that are not obvious, such as the realization that Iraqi riots wouldn’t occur without food vendors’ presence.  It’s one thing to know what habits are getting in the way, and it’s another entirely to see a pattern of blockages without being able to identify the linchpin habit that’s creating problems.  (Very often, an outside observer is the best way to spot that habit.)  Once you’ve identified the deleterious habit, though, Duhigg can help you to change it.

I’m studying The Power of Habit to help my clients find more effective ways to build automatic behaviors.  If time is limited, I’d strongly recommend that you read at least the first four chapters.  You’ll get a good grounding in how to create and change habits, and you’ll likely find yourself at least skimming the rest of the book.

In the meantime, ask yourself:  what do I do with little or no thought that’s getting in my way?  What reward am I craving?  How can I get that reward without the harmful behavior?  What should I substitute?  Even if your study of habit remains on that relatively surface level, you and your business will benefit.


The Art of the Ask: How to Ask For Business (And When Not to Ask)

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business.  However, many lawyers are reluctant to ask explicitly for business, and rightly so.  A flat request can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no”, and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation.  Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business.  And yet, the inner voice cautions (or should caution!), if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Knowing whether and how to ask for business requires  you to check several considerations.  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut…  If you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you could be correct.
    Try a gentler approach (something like “I’d be happy to suggest an approach for that”) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.
  • …But notice how often your gut tells you not to ask.  If your gut almost always tells you that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level.  What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?
  • Look for the win / win.  Lawyers often use rather violent language for business development:  “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client”, for instance.  This language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target.  Although few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way, the fear or being perceived as a ruthless hunter may prompt a lawyer to hold back.  It may even prompt lawyers to ask for business so tentatively that the request implies that the potential client would be doing the lawyer a great favor by hiring him.  When you issue a good request for business, you know the benefit and value you’re bringing, and you can weave it into your request.
  • Listen to the potential client’s concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help.  If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts.  You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.
  • Invite a potential client to your office for a consultation, and specifically mention that you’ll discuss your engagement letter and answer any questions they may have.  If you know enough about the client and the matter to be sure that you would be willing to accept it, this can be a natural way to move the conversation forward.

Asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique.  You might get hired without asking for the business, but until you master this skill, you can’t count on growing your book.

Think about your current “low hanging fruit”, or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them?  What approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively?  When have you held back from a request, and how might you recover and adjust your habits going forward?